Grassroot Tories are terrified their party is planning to strip them of a lot of their influence. It has been reported that on Tuesday, a long-running review of the party’s structure was presented to the Conservative Party Board, the party’s decision making body, which could drastically cut the number of local associations.
The Telegraph reports that the proposals could lead to 650 Conservative associations being scrapped and replaced with around 60 “super-associations” that would employ permanent staff. The Conservative Party is denying it will impose anything on local associations.
“The proposal is to offer constituency Associations the option to form multi-constituency Associations so they can benefit from shared offices and access to professional staff,” a Conservative spokesperson told Business Insider.
The way constituency associations are structured is a big deal to many grassroots Tories. At the moment there is basically one group for each MP or parliamentary candidate. Through a variety of methods, the associations select who they want to represent them in the House of Commons, campaign for them during elections periods and hold them to account if they become an MP.
We don’t know the exact details of the review, but clearly if there is no longer a single association and association chairman for each MP, it will be a major change for the party. The Conservatives claim that changing the structure will make the party more “robust… so that it can campaign successfully to win elections in the future.” While many association members don’t disagree that in some instances change could be useful, they are concerned the changes will undermine their power and give CCHQ , the Conservative Party’s headquarter, more power over the party.
The review is driving another wedge of mistrust between the Conservative Party’s leaders and its members.
One association chairman told Business Insider there have been rumours CCHQ has been plotting to seize power from local associations for years. Another association chairman admits that while they don’t really know what the new proposals are, they fear it is part of a plan to stifle democracy with the party:
“My feeling is they don’t want local associations, they don’t like them criticising things. They are hypocrites, they talk about localism but they don’t actually care about it in their own party.”
Another chairman admits there are problems with certain associations, but argues that merging them together will “remove the flavour of grassroot politics.”
This more measured fear, that the political fervor within associations is going to be diluted is very prevalent — even among chairmen who approve of semi-mergers that have already taken place.
On their own initiative, some associations have grouped together in order to save administrative costs. A veteran association member who was involved in pushing through one of these groupings, says even though “it wasn’t without grit in the oyster,” it worked for his association — but they fear that one size will not fit all with party restructuring.
Another Conservative source notes that while there is justification for some restructuring, a “bonus side affect” is CCHQ being able to weaken the associations.
At the root of this cynicism among Tory grassroots is a growing feeling that party leaders have lost touch with them and are operating according to their own devices.
With the EU referendum coming up and the majority of Conservative members in favour of a Brexit, the pro-EU David Cameron is going to find it increasingly difficult to placate the fears within his party.
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